Area historian Elaine Reetz did an excellent job capturing the history of the wagon and blacksmith shops built and operated by August Swanke on Princeton’s west side in the 19th century in her newspaper articles and books in the 20th century.
Reetz’s history of the shops appeared in the Princeton Times-Republic (March 17, 1966 – see below), Fox River Patriot and her 1982 book “Come Back in Time, Vol. II: Business & Commerce.”
Profiles of Swanke also appeared in the “Portrait and Biographical Album of Green Lake, Marquette and Waushara Counties” published in 1890 by Acme Publishing Company and the “Industrial Review of Princeton, Wisconsin” published by A.I. Lord in 1897.
This post will focus on his Second Street buildings, but they were just a part of Swanke’s community contributions.
August Swanke served as town board chairman, village trustee and president, and chairman of the county board of supervisors. He supervised construction of the frame church for St. John’s Catholic in 1871 and several houses. He built the Western House at Main and Second streets (Drunky Brewsters today), the building at 609 West Water Street (Knickerbocker Landing Saloon) and an addition to the Thiel double block (608-612 West Water Street, Loading Dock and Beer Bellys).
At times he co-owned the grain elevator that stood on the Fox River south of 617 West Water Street, the grist/flour mill powered by the mill race on the west side, and the steamboat Ellen Hardy.
Swanke was born on Sept 16, 1833, in Prussia. He left home at the age of 14 to serve a three-year apprenticeship to a wagon and carriage maker and departed for America in 1856. “His destination was Princeton, Wis., and on the shores of the new world he proceeded directly to that place,” the “Portrait and Biographical Album” reported.
Swanke married Wilhelmine “Minnie” Dundee in December 1857. “Knowing that he now had a wife dependent upon him, he resumed his labors with renewed zeal which resulted in a degree of success far succeeding his early expectations,” the album noted. “The first two years of his life in America were spent as an employee, but in 1858 he rented a shop and began business for himself, there continuing operations until 1866.”
Swanke purchased Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 of Block 2 of Flint & Treat’s Addition, platted in 1857, from Augustine (Kessper) and Charles Krugel in March 1865 (Deeds, Volume 38, Page 25). The property had passed from Waldo and Alvin Flint to Frederick Siebel (Deeds, Volume R, Page 33) in August 1857, then to William Luedtke in August 1859 (Deeds, Volume R, Page 34) and finally to Augustine Kessper (Deeds, Volume R, Page 128).
A caveat “excepting and reserving therefrom forever all lands necessary to be used for the purpose of a mill race” was included in each deed.
Swanke erected small buildings for a blacksmith forge and wagon shop. He sold half of his interest in the business and Lots 6 and 7 to Frederick T. Yahr for $400 in January 1866 (Deeds, Volume 25, Page 304). The partnership lasted just 10 months, however, as Yahr sold his share back to Swanke for $400 in October (Deeds, Volume 33, Page 465) following a fire.
As Yahr focused on dealing in wheat and farm equipment before helping launch a bank, Swanke built his wagon business.
Princeton Republic, March 26, 1870 – “The wagon and carriage manufactory of A. Swanke on the west side is worthy of notice. Mr. Swanke came her about 12 years ago, a poor man and labored hard two years with A. Thiel, who at that time was engaged in building wagons in Princeton – there being no West Princeton known, at least in the way of business. Mr. Swanke determined to go over the river where the land was cheap and where with his small but hard-earned capital, he could the better establish himself. Here he built small shops or shanties and like his old partner, ‘pitched in’ and amid good times and hard times has continued to ‘pitch in’ until now he drives the largest trade in his line in the town. He turns out wagons, buggies, sleighs, cutters, etc. to nearly or quite 300 in all, per year, besides making several varieties of plows, barrows, cultivators, etc. We are glad to see our friend August succeed, and he will do it.”
Swanke built a stone building on Lot 7, at about 107 South Second Street, and then a larger shop just north, on the southwest corner of Main and Second streets.
Princeton Republic, May 7, 1870 – “August Swanke has commenced work on his new wagon shop.”
The first stone building became the blacksmith shop in 1873 when Swanke completed “another and more commodious stone building, where he now carries on his work,” the “Portrait & Biographical Album” noted. “He not only thoroughly understands the construction of carriages and wagons but does all his own painting and decorating, and the goods from his factory have won high commendation.”
Princeton Republic, July 29, 1876 – “The business was first commenced by August Swanke in a little underground shop, where, with his own hands, he turned out a limited amount of work. The work done, however, was of the best quality, and his reputation as the maker of good wagons soon spread. The demand immediately increased, and more hands were employed until at the present time no less than thirteen workmen are employed, turning out vehicles of every description. The wood room takes up the whole of the first floor of their large stone building. Here the woodwork on all wagons, carriages and sleighs is made and properly united. The blacksmiths then do the ironing, and three forgers are kept constantly at work in this department of the business. After the ironing is finished, the painters take all the parts and complete the work. Jesse Radway, an old Princetonian, but more recently from Vineland, N.J., handles the brushes and directs the work in that department. As this work is paid by the piece, it is almost magical the way the many colored stripes arrange themselves on the hubs, spokes, boxes and running gear of a wagon. Timber used at this shop is obtained from different points on the river, and is thoroughly prepared by seasoning before it is worked up, and to give more room for this process, another large dry house is to be erected on the north side of Main Street (future site of the Western House). There have been turned out of this shop during the past year one hundred and fifty wagons, twenty carriages, fifty cutters, one hundred sleighs, and a large number of plows, cultivators and drags.”
Swanke added another branch to his business in 1877.
Princeton Republic, June 9, 1877 – “August Swanke has his planing mill nearly ready for business. He has a good engine and has built a stone engine house, which he has tried to have fireproof. The smokestack was put in place on Thursday, and we learned that steam would be raised and the running of the machinery tested. The mill is to be used mostly in his own manufacturing.”
I don’t know where the planing mill was located. I believe it was east of the mill pond, near the mill. The newspaper reported a tornado in June 1883 tore off part of the roof of the blacksmith shop connected with the foundry and leveled the smokestack.
We do know the location of Swanke’s second planing mill.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 30, 1883 – “August Swanke is laying the foundation for a new planing mill south of his shops on the west side. The place is more appropriate than where the old one stood. A new engine will be placed therein, and everything will be on a larger and more commodious scale than heretofore, the room and capacity for work being more ample. Swanke’s growing business demands an increase of room and facilities.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 20, 1883 – “Princeton is blessed with a building boom. Improvements are being made continually, which point to a very satisfactory future. … Crossing the mill race we come to the business corner of Aug. Swanke. Mr. S. is always changing and making improvements. His business demands it. He manufactures a wagon that finds a ready market in many localities beside Princeton. He has built up a business of which he may feel proud. We are glad to note his prosperity. He is also erecting a new planing mill south of his shops, which looks from the street as though it would be ready for occupation soon.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 6, 1883 – “Aug. Swanke’s sales yesterday in stock and other articles amounted to over $1,000.”
Swanke had overcome fire and tornado, but he faced a different challenge in 1883-1884.
Princeton Republic, April 19, 1883 – “When the Republic went to press last week rumors were afloat in every direction suggestive of personal violence in connection with the death of Erd. Meike. A.H. Myers, Esq., acting as coroner, the necessary steps were taken to investigate the matter. A jury was empaneled, and a post-mortem examination made by Drs. Mueller and Millard. There were marks of violence on the person of the deceased, as if caused by a kick, but no evidence was given in the testimony criminating any person as being the author of the mishap. Meike was undoubtedly under the influence of liquor and wandered over on the west side in the neighborhood of Swanke’s shops. He was made the victim of frolic but nothing of a particularly violent nature was proven to have been done by the participants unless using a ‘squirt gun’ charged with water and drenching him could be termed rough usage. The verdict of the jury was in effect the Meike came to his death from injury done by person or persons to the jury unknown. The ends the chapter of Meike’s death, or at least the first section.”
Investigators were not so quick to move on. The district attorney charged Swanke with manslaughter in Meike’s death. He was acquitted at a jury trial in June 1884.
Swanke launched another business in 1885.
Princeton Republic, August 6, 1885 – “If some improvement isn’t going on over at Swanke’s corners when you visit there it is because you visit in the night. He is about putting in a sorghum crusher to be driven by steam. This will prove another convenience for the farmers.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 17, 1885 – “Aug. Swanke has now in running order a sorghum mill, well-equipped in every particular. He is ready to manufacture any quantity of cane into syrup. His machinery is run by steam and is always ready to push matters in the most expeditious manner.”
Princeton Republic, Oct. 8. 1885 – “The sorghum mill over on the west side that has been put in operation by August Swanke has been a great convenience and has also been doing a good business. The mill has a capacity for manufacturing many gallons syrup per day. We learn that Mr. Swanke entertains the idea of putting in improved machinery next year for the manufacture of sugar, should the season look favorable for the propagation of cane. We would be pleased to see an industry of that kind planted in our village.”
Swanke’s improvements continued in the 1890s. He built the Western House in 1891 and expanded his planing mill by adding foundry equipment and a sawmill in 1896.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 22, 1896 – “During the past season, August Swanke has added several new departments to his already extensive manufacturing establishment on the west side. He has purchased the machinery, patterns and tools of the old iron foundry (Main Street) and has moved them into one of the buildings south of the mill ditch. Jos. Junker, who is an expert moulder and a first-class iron worker, is in charge of this department and is kept busy turning out castings for the various farm machines which Mr. Swanke manufactures. Arrangements are also being made by Mr. Swanke to saw his own oak planks and timbers. Oak logs will be brought down the river by steamer and converted into material needed at the wagon shop.”
The ”Industrial Review of Princeton” said the Swanke name was “a synonym of good workmanship and reliable product” in 1897.
Swanke passed in January 1903. “Mr. Wanke was a man noted for honesty of purpose and good character,” the newspaper said in his obituary. “He was a steady and hardworking man and was the pioneer businessman of our city. He has been honored to many offices in our city.”
Before closing our chapter on Swanke, we need to recount one more story about the wagon maker, who will be remembered as well for a horse race he had with August Thiel, who established Princeton’s first well-known wagon factory on Farmer Street, just north of the brewery, in the 1850s. Swanke had worked for Thiel for two years before starting his own business.
Thiel was killed in a freak accident on Tuesday, September 27, 1870. Reports said Thiel and Swanke were horse racing when Thiel appeared to slump and was hanging from his steed’s side when his head smashed into a hitching post near Swanke’s shop, knocking him to the ground senseless. He never regained consciousness. He was 39 and left a widow and two little girls. A Ripon newspaper claimed Thiel was drunk; the Republic denied that rumor.
One month after Minnie Swanke, who gave birth to eight children in 17 years, passed in January 1874 at age 35, August Swanke married August Thiel’s widow, Henrietta.
Swanke’s heirs began selling wagons, buggies, sleighs, etc. below cost in March 1903.
Princeton Republic, Dec. 24, 1903 – “Messrs. Otto Rude and Rudolph Brown have rented the blacksmith shop which was owned and conducted by the late August Swanke and are prepared to do all kinds of blacksmith work, woodwork and horse shoeing.”
The family sold the business and property to Albert Miller (Mueller) for $5,500 in February 1906 (Deeds, Volume 67, Page 54).
Princeton Republic, January 11, 1906 – “… The latter part of last week the deal was closed whereby the wagon shop, foundry building, stock and all property belonging to the estate of August Swanke Sr., deceased, with the exception of the home residence, was transferred by the heirs to Albert Mueller. The old stone wagon shop is one of the landmarks of Princeton. It was erected by Mr. Swanke nearly forty years ago and at that time was considered a great improvement to the business interests of our town.”
Mueller sold the property to Frederick W. Schrank for $2,800 in June 1907 (Deeds, Volume 67, Page 535). Schrank sold in December 1909 to real estate agent L.A. Merrill (Deeds, Volume 70, Page 171), who sold to William Seidel in March 1910 (Deeds, Volume 70, Page 227).
Princeton Republic, March 10, 1910 – “Louis Merrill, who recently became owner of the west side Swanke wagon shops, has through a deal or trade transferred same to Wm. Seidel. We have been unable to learn as to Mr. Seidel’s future intention regarding same.”
Seidel, who was among a group of Princeton merchants who formed the Princeton Power & Light Company in 1917, operated the blacksmith shop for several years. He hired Mike Marshall, who moved to Princeton from a farm near Neshkoro at the age of 13 in 1910, as an apprentice.
“In the wagon and woodworking shop standing on the corner, men were working on the building of wagons, hayracks, bob-sleighs, buggies, cutters and surreys with the fringe on top,” wrote Reetz, who first interviewed Marshall in the 1960s. “The first floor was used for assembling, and painting was done upstairs.”
Seidel sold a parcel 62-by-110 feet commencing on the northeast corner of Lot 7, including the wagon shop, to Marshall for $3,000 in May 1919 (Deeds, Volume 80, Page 109).
Princeton Republic, May 8, 1919 – “Wm. Seidel has disposed of his entire business. In a deal recently transacted between Wm. Seidel and Mike Marshall, the latter became of the owner of the former’s wagon and blacksmith shop located on the west side. Mr. Marshall will take immediate possession and continue the business.”
Marshall, who married Anna Bednarek in 1921, converted part of the wagon shop into a home in 1922 and took the entire building when the shop closed.
“The field stone is covered with stucco and has 27-inch walls at the base, tapering to 10 inches at the top,” Reetz reported.
In March 1927 the original stone shop that had become the blacksmith shop was torn down. The mortar was cleaned off and reused, and the stone was reset in concrete for a new one-story building on the site.
Princeton Republic, April 14, 1927 – “Mike Marshall is busily engaged in the erection of a new blacksmith shop on the West Side.”
“In visits with Marshall in the later years of the 1960s, entering the double doors of the fieldstone smithy was like stepping into the past,” Reetz recalled in “Come Back in Time, Vol. II.” “Here the smith concentrated on his work, heating the iron and bending it to the desired shape before cooling and tempering the iron in a wooden tub which was warped with age, and standing beside the forge.
“The hissing of steam, which blended with the coal smoke, had sooted and smoked the ceilings and walls for decades. In dimly lit corners one could see intriguing remnants of the day when the blacksmith was the farmer’s right-hand man. On the south wall were grooved racks Marshall had built long before to hold dozens of plowshares after they were sharpened. In a 1968 visit with Marshall, the grooves held only half a dozen plowshares, even though Marshall occasionally repaired plows. From the beamed ceiling hung a few horseshoes. Marshall has sold out his stock to collectors and fanciers of horseshoe games. The rusted old coal and wood heater in the corner of the shop still threw out heat to the square table where every afternoon Marshall’s cronies gathered for a game or two of cards and some ‘man talk.’ The gab sessions more often than not centered around the good ol’ days.”
In later years Marshall’s shop produced items as ornamental porch railings and flower boxes, Reetz said.
An important cog in Swanke’s former operation was razed in 1937.
Princeton Republic, Nov. 4, 1937 – “A west side landmark, the old foundry and planing mill, near the Steve Krystofiak home south of the mill ditch, disappeared this week when Adolph Schmudlach, who now owns the property, tore it down. … It has been many years since the building was in use. It was one of three buildings owned by August Swanke who had a wagon works and blacksmith shop on the corner of West Main and Highway 23. The wagon shop was rebuilt and is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mike Marshall, and the Marshall blacksmith shop stands on the site of the old blacksmith shop.”
Mike Marshall died in August 1972. The property passed from the Marshall family to Frank Szafran in 1985 (Deeds, Volume 342, Page 252).
Today the former blacksmith shop is home to Golden’s Chimney Lining at 107 South Second Street and the former wagon shop on the corner remains a residence.
Quas qui error
The booklet published in 1973 as part of Princeton’s 125th anniversary celebration contains a significant error about Princeton’s first foundry. The author confuses the planing mill/sawmill/foundry erected by August Swanke south of the mill channel on Second Street in 1886 with the foundry erected in 1868 by Jacob Yunker (Junker) about a block west of the Main Street bridge.
Here’s what the booklet says: “The foundry on the west side of the river was established in 1868 and was located in what is now called McCormick’s pasture. … The Yunker brothers, relatives of Clarence Oelke, present city clerk, operated the foundry.”
Here are the facts: Jacob Yunker (Junker) founded the foundry in 1868 about a block west of the Main Street bridge. The foundry located in McCormick’s pasture was the Swanke planing mill, built in 1883.
Princeton Republic, June 1, 1868 – “Mr. Junker, from Mayville, has shipped the moveable effects of his foundry to this village and is now busy putting up a building on the corner of west Main and Mill streets, and in a few weeks will have his furnace in full blast.”
Princeton Republic, June 18, 1868 – “The new foundry went up on Monday like a palace of enchantment. By the assistance of as many men as could work upon the building, it was raised, sided, and almost shingled in one day.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 14, 1868 – “The new foundry has commenced operations, making its first regular blast last Saturday.”
Swanke purchased the Yunker foundry equipment, moved it to his planing mill on Second Street and hired Joseph Yunker in 1896.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 22, 1896 – “During the past season, August Swanke has added several new departments to his already extensive manufacturing establishment on the west side. He has purchased the machinery, patterns and tools of the old iron foundry (Main Street) and has moved them into one of the buildings south of the mill ditch. Jos. Junker, who is an expert moulder and a first-class iron worker, is in charge of this department and is kept busy turning out castings for the various farm machines which Mr. Swanke manufactures. Arrangements are also being made by Mr. Swanke to saw his own oak plants and timbers. Oak logs will be brought down the river by steamer and converted into material needed at the wagon shop.”
The description provided of the foundry’s two parts in the quas qui book comes from the Princeton Republic’s visit to the Junker foundry on Main Street in 1876, not the Swanke foundry “in McCormick’s pasture.”
Princeton Republic, July 22, 1876 – “The West Side Foundry: This important branch of business was established here in 1868 and has been operated by the Junker Bro’s. since that time. It is located just across the bridge on the north side of the road. The building is divided into two parts … .”
The foundry was divided into a one-story moulding room and two-story finishing department. A 20-horsepower steam engine located between the two rooms ran the machinery. There was no flooring other than the ground, which was kept very smooth and level.
On either side of the moulding room were two banks of sand, once light in color but later burnt black as coal. A furnace in the rear of the room had a rotary fan that supplied air to be forced through pipes into the side of the furnace. Hard coal shipped from Sheboygan was used in the melting process.
The finishing department featured two large grind stones used for polishing and a blacksmith’s forge.
Please let me know if you have any corrections or can fill in gaps in the timeline.
Thank you for reading and caring about local history.
Next: The distillery, tannery and slaughterhouse